contracts and agreements for artists

Contracts & Agreements

Contracts are useful if not vital for a number of reasons. They spell out agreements between parties that are enforceable by law. They clarify legal issues and add a sense of professionalism to any agreement. A contract can be verbal, but a contract in writing, signed by both parties, is always better. Written contracts can avoid messy disagreements or grey areas in a working partnership. They can also dodge the infamous “my word against yours” scenario. An articulate and professional contract will fairly protect all responsible parties.

A contract should state each party’s obligations/responsibilities, the scope of work, and the agreement as to compensation. It does not have to be written in legalise unless you are spelling out terms for a complicated project. The contract should include all the agreements you have with the other party. The contract should be clear and avoid any loose-ends or uncertain language. You do not want your contract to be open for interpretation, assumption, or contain any loopholes. 

As a general rule, any time you enter into an agreement pertaining to money or long-term associations, such as gallery representation, you need to have a lawyer look over the agreement. Hundreds of artists have been bullied into signing contracts they don’t understand. If your contract is complicated, or you do not understand it, take your time and review it with a lawyer.

When working with friends it is always a good idea to draw up a simple written contract. Make sure the contract is clear and specific. Sticking to this contract can help you avoid miscommunications and maintain your friendship. This action doesn’t have to appear as if you do not trust your friend(s). Presenting a contract in a polite manner will appear professional and courteous for all parties involved. 

If you are presented with a contract and changes are mutually agreed upon with the other party, you have a few options when addressing alterations: 

1.  You may request that the contract be revised with the appropriate changes before you sign it.  

2.  Make handwritten notes in the margins or on the back of a contract. This should only be done if a hard-copy revision is not possible due to timing factors or other inconvenient circumstances. If handwritten notes are added to a contract, be sure to have all responsible parties sign or initial all revisions or addenda.

3.  Provide printed and signed addenda to an existing signed contract. These will be items that either void/replace a previous portion of an agreement or add new items to go into effect.

Many times a gallery or organization will not present you with a contract, or worse, refuse to sign one. This should raise a red flag warning to question why the other party doesn’t want a written contract with you. In many circumstances, they may not be knowledgable about the process or feel the that contracts are too formal for the occasion. This is a great opportunity to have a contract ready for them to sign. Having a consistent personal policy regarding contracts will not only ensure your safety but will also present you as a professional artist.  

Unfortunately, there may be galleries and organizations that will avoid signing contracts to take advantage of you, dodge financial responsibility, or leave your working relationship open to be dropped without notice. The irresponsible party desires an unfair balance in its favor. Being polite yet insistent on a signed contract will present you as knowledgable and unsusceptible to potential corruption. Ask the other party to justify its reason(s) for not signing a contract with you. If there is still no signed contract, you are better off avoiding a relationship with that gallery or organization all together.

Alternatives To a Contract

If the gallery you want to work with does not sign contracts, we recommend that you at least get a list of those things that you as the artist are responsible for and what the gallery is responsible for. Schedule a meeting with the gallery and ask it to clarify both responsibilities. Write them all down. Then send this list with a cover letter, asking the gallery to review the lists (per your conversation on (what date and where). Ask also that it notify you in writing if any of the agreements are incorrect. Basically what you will get out of this is an Agreement.

Sample Contracts

We have provided samples that highlight various circumstances in which you will need a contract to protect yourself, your practice, and the other party that is entering an agreement with you. 

Sample Contract and Forms include:

Contract for the Sale of an Artwork

Invoice for the Sale of an Artwork

Contract to Commission an Artwork

Contract for Receipt and Holding of Artwork

Artist Gallery Contract/ Consignment/ Account

Contract for an Exhibition Loan

Artist’s Lecture Contract

Contract for Transmission, Sales and/or Rental Media

Licensing Contract to Merchandise Images

California Resale Sticker

Model Release Form

Property Release Form

If you have any questions about legal language, please consult one of the references included in this manual, or contact an arts attorney. Use these sample items to see if there is anything missing in your contract, or if you need to alter a contract you have been sent.

NOTE: These sample contracts are for checklist and reference purposes only. Please use these contracts at your own risk. GYST-Ink is not responsible for any unfavorable outcomes associated with the use of these contracts.


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You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.